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Existential Crisis Of Planning

Posted on July 30, 2003 and read 7,575 times

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At a conference on planning in Boca Raton, Florida, early last month, advertising star Jeff Goodby said something that the advertising world may see, but refuse to acknowledge: advertising account planners are floundering.

The profession of advertising account planning is in deep crisis, Goodby said, which could lead to its ultimate irrelevancy.

He told of an internal survey at its company, Omnicom Group’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which found deep doubts as to the efficacy of planners. Goodby also presented several ideas for the hapless planners, including to rely less on focus groups, to be less confrontational, and to be more direct, using milestones. “Guide, don’t judge,” he urged. He also suggested they change the name of the discipline.

But his suggestions do not go far enough to save planning, which is suffering from no less than an existential crisis.

Cosmetic results

Everybody agrees that planning is essential, yet its future form is murky.

In the British advertising industry, planning developed in a structured manner, over time. But elsewhere its adoption as a concept was too hasty, resulting in a product that was more cosmetic in nature, at the expense of practicality. In Israel too, research units were turned into planning units.

It was a convenient solution for the ad agencies, to build planning on the backbone of research.

And while changing their moniker from research to planning is not devoid of significance, in practice the new units’ contribution is not obvious. The best example is found at the various advertising competitions around the world, most notably in Cannes, where it is all but impossible to see any mark of strategic planning in the winning offerings.

If they do not offer advertising strategies relying on surprising insights, or the kind that create a new perspective on the product, the planning units become a mere rubber stamp of the customer, leaving the agency’s creative staff without tools.

The result can be dissonance among the creative people. On the one hand, they take strategy seriously. Yet they are forced to contend with strategic clichés that do not help one whit. In such cases, not only does the functioning of the creative department fail to improve; it can even find itself impaired because of the status of the planning department, which is capable of throwing out a creative product based on cold yet groundless analysis.

Reintroducing the creative to planning

Two central problems hamper the discipline, leaving aside from the sudden shift from research to planning.

One lies in general methodology. There is a vast methodological gap between fundamentals methods originating from research, and the key goals of planning. The resultant methodology is not goal-oriented, and cannot enable quality results to be consistently achieved.

In fact, the process of creating an advertising strategy based on the existing model is creative, not cognitive, which leads to the second key problem undermining the whole school of planning: that the characteristics planners are required to have, are the wrong ones. Today planners are chosen based on experience in strategy, research, and marketing, not on creative skills. Consequently, one can hardly expect planners to help the creative people, given their absence of creative sensitivity and perspective.

In the immediate term, the discipline’s name should probably be changed, as Goodby suggests. I believe “creative planning” would capture the change that the discipline so urgently needs in order to obtain its relevance, and reorient its goals.

Kobi Barki is an advertising consultant to companies in Israel and Europe. In addition to those responsibilities he has contributed to for the past three years and is an Israeli affiliate of This year Mr.Barki began teaching a new course titled “creative planning” at Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in Jerusalem.




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